Syracuse police say they failed to follow up abuse tip

SYRACUSE, New York Tue Nov 29, 2011 3:46pm EST

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SYRACUSE, New York (Reuters) - The Syracuse police chief knew in 2002 that a former team ball boy had accused an assistant Syracuse University basketball coach of sexual abuse, but police never started an investigation or filed a report, authorities said on Tuesday.

Syracuse Chief of Police Frank Fowler released a timeline of the missteps in 2002 under his predecessor Chief Dennis DuVal, a former Syracuse basketball player from 1971-1974 who later played for two seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Bernie Fine, a longtime assistant to Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim, was fired on Sunday after ESPN played on air the audio of what it said was a telephone call from Fine's wife Laurie to an alleged victim confirming the abuse.

The school said Boeheim, who initially defended Fine but reversed himself and supported his firing, would speak publicly after a Tuesday evening home game against Eastern Michigan University.

When asked if the scandal would cost Boeheim his job, Chancellor Nancy Cantor gave him what appeared to be an informal vote of confidence on Tuesday, saying, "Coach Boeheim is our coach."

Fine is the target of a grand jury investigation into accusations that he molested a former ball boy, Bobby Davis, 39, and at least one other boy, Davis's stepbrother Mike Lang, 45, when they were juveniles.

Pittsburgh police said they would also investigate allegations from a third man, Zach Tomaselli, that Fine tried to fondle him in a hotel in 2002.

Fine has called the accusations against him "patently false in every aspect."

Syracuse Police formally launched an investigation of Fine on November 17 -- nine years after his alleged victim first spoke with them by phone, Fowler said in the statement.

Davis was in Utah when he telephoned Detective Doug Fox in 2002 and told him about the sexual abuse.

The detective relayed the allegations to both his supervisor in the Abused Persons Unit and Chief DuVal,

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS

The detective told Davis the statute of limitations had run out so authorities could not make an arrest, but he urged him to turn over additional information about other victims.

"It was decided that unless the victim met with the detective or the victim was able to provide names of other victims, then an investigation would not be initiated," Fowler said in a statement.

Those conditions were not met so an investigation was never initiated and a report never created.

"I was not the chief in 2002 and I cannot change the procedures in place at that time," Fowler said in a statement. He said that moving forward, all reports of sexual abuse, including those made over the phone, would be formally documented.

"The investigation is active and ongoing and has entered a new phase with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the U.S. Secret Service taking the lead," Fowler said in the statement.

Calls to former police chief DuVal were not returned. No one answered the door at DuVal's house in Syracuse.

Fowler said it was not until earlier this month that police learned of several key developments, which caused them to launch their investigation.

"On November 17, 2011... two victims came to the Syracuse Police Department, along with new evidence," Fowler said.

On that day, police also learned for the first time that Syracuse University had investigated and dismissed the allegations for lack of corroboration in 2005.

Syracuse is the third major university to disclose abuse allegations after Penn State University, where a former assistant football coach faces 40 sexual abuse charges, and South Carolina military college The Citadel, where a former student was arrested on accusations of molesting boys.

(Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Greg McCune)

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